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All homemade, local and/or organic. Also vegan! Potato, leek, and fennel soup, baked acorn squash, and steamed Brussels sprouts over couscous.

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Tea Kettles

A kettle can be looked at much like the cauldron, a goddess symbol with connections to both Earth and Water elements.

The above quote is from Juniper on one of the tools of hearth craft.  This idea really resonates with me and I’m amazed that I didn’t make that connection before.  Sure, I see my apartment’s electric stove as the modern hearth and the heat it produces as an extension of Brighid’s sacred flame – but why didn’t I ever see my kettle as a type of cauldron?  As a tea lover, it is such a central part of my life!  I think my world was just rocked.

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I love working in my kitchen.  When I’m there, I feel close to Brighid, my patroness and guardian of the hearth.  Over the years, I’ve turned into a real foodie.  I love making my own food.  If I can grow it, that’s even better!  The kitchen is a great place to adopt a more sustainable lifestyle.  Although we’re not perfect, Weretoad and I have been making considerable efforts!

I was really, really pleased to get a food dehydrator as a holiday gift from my parents.  Drying is one of the oldest forms of food preservation.  I’ve been doing a bit myself the old fashioned way – mostly with herbs and chili peppers from my garden.  This new dehydrator will allow me to dry larger quantities of food quickly and using very little energy.  Last night we dried two bunches of mini bananas that were on their way out and dirt cheap at the grocery store.  Sure they’re not local.  They weren’t organic either.  But using old bananas that would have been thrown out anyway is very sustainable!  They are so delicious too.  They aren’t like the typical banana chips bought in stores, which are usually fried before drying.  These are chewy like a gummy candy!

 

 

 

As I write this, I’m making tonight’s dinner – stew and dumplings thanks to my father’s dumpling recipe.  A few years ago, I was more likely to make some sort of vegetarian hamburger helper type meal – something from a package.  To a busy gal more focused on literature than food, they seemed healthy.  As I’ve grown, I’ve become more interested in what is on my plate.  Where did it come from?  What’s in it?  Is it really good for me?  Again, we’re not perfect, but we’ve made huge strides in making a majority of our meals from scratch or from local/organic products.  Making food in the traditional way, I feel, brings me closer to the Kindreds.  Working in the kitchen, as I said, strengthens my relationship to Brighid of the hearth.  Using better ingredients brings me closer to the Nature Spirits.  Preparing meals from scratch rather than from a box and becoming more and more familiar with traditional methods brings me closer to my ancestors.

We don’t feel that we’re perfect (we have lazy moments) and our journey towards better sustainability continues.  It is a very Druidic journey, in my opinion.  Witches and Druids who strive for a closeness with the Earth should take such a journey.  Some of you may disagree with me, but it’s something I believe very strongly.

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I do consider Samhain to be the beginning of my spiritual year, but I also cannot deny the status quo in regards to modern society.  Generations have looked to the point between December and January as the threshold to a new year and the continual existence of all. I can’t deny the power associated with such a movement, even if I don’t always observe it with much excitement.  Last year I spent it quietly with my husband.  We relaxed.  This year, I’ll likely spend it helping my sister move and then celebrating with some of my tribe.

Another thing I want to do is clean my home as best as I can.  Many people believe that what you do at the end of the old year will follow you into the new year, and that we should strive to surround ourselves with the qualities we want to fill our lives with.  I want my apartment to be cleaner and I want to take more time making it thus.  I spent some time today cleaning and organizing the kitchen.  There is still work to be done but it’s slowly getting better and more user-friendly.

I also find myself looking forward to the green half of the year.  With the Winter Solstice pretty much over (I plan to take my decorations down on the 6th.  There’s an old Irish belief that it’s unlucky to do so before or after.), I find myself excited for Beltaine.  I feel a bit bad about that since I don’t feel as giddy over the next high day, Imbolc, which is sacred to my blessed Lady Brighid, but to me that’s more of a quiet holiday for counting one’s blessings.  The Spring Equinox has never been that festive to me either.  Beltaine, though, is another story completely.  The ground will finally be completely or in the process of thawing.  The leaves will be blossoming and the robins will assuredly be back by then.  It is when my grove erects a May Pole and we dance about it to provoke the Earth Mother into fecundity.  It is a flirtatious and celebratory time!  I find myself excitedly looking through seed catalogs and humming Jonathan Coulton’s “First of May”…

This time of year is also when I find myself a new calendar.  This year I am going to use  The Artisans Guild of Ár nDraíocht Féin 2011 Calendar.  It supports the guild I belong to and features the work of several amazing Pagan artists – including a couple of my dolls!

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Ireland has captured my imagination, for better or for worse.  A few years earlier, I never would have believed that I would be seriously studying Irish lore, Irish history, considering learning the Irish language, and worshiping the Irish Gods.  A few years ago, the Irish Gods were “the strange Gods with even stranger names.”  In a society that seems to idolize the Greeks and Romans, we’re just more familiar with their mythology and history.  As a fledgling Pagan, I really tried to make those cultures central to my worship.  In the end, Ireland finally got the attention I now realize it was trying to get all along.

It isn’t that I hated Ireland as a younger me.  In fact, I was very much enamored with anything medieval, and Ireland started to attract me then.  In middle school I went through a phase where I had to read about medieval castles, swords, history, and clothing. I was obsessed with the legend of King Arthur and Merlin.  Above all, I was captivated by Irish music, especially harp music.

Upon finding ADF I felt like I was already feeling a call from the Tuatha de Danann.  I wasn’t sure what to do with this calling, but ADF gave me helpful hints and I began to read voraciously about Ireland.  My interest in medieval culture came back, along with an even greater interest in Ancient Ireland.  At first, the books I read were confusing.  Again, I was dealing with “those strange Gods with the even stranger names.”  As I went along, I soon realized that I was growing more and more familiar, and thus comfortable, with the culture and the Gods.

I first realized how akin the old Irish ideas about the world were to my own.  The Irish respected and even venerated nature as do I.  They didn’t see a separation of the mundane and the magical/spiritual, and nor do I.  The old Irish were polytheistic and so am I.  They felt that art, knowledge, and truth were some of the most important and powerful things, and so do I.  Yet there was more than that.  Something just clicked.

Before I knew it, the ADF rituals started to make sense.  When I first attended a grove, although it was a lovely experience, I was reminded of long, Catholic masses full of mystery.  Through studying the lore and history, I realized that there was a pattern being followed.  I started to understand Gatekeepers, the three realms, the three Kindreds, and so many other theological subjects within ADF through a Celtic, especially Irish, frame of mind.  Somehow, during the voracious reading I was doing, I started to internalize the culture bit by bit.  I found that I believed in the Otherworld, fairies, and even found myself a bit fearful of the Pooka around Samhain.  I pray to the Gods and thank them often.  Slowly but surely, Irish concepts are leaking into my art.  I’ve been sewing dolls that resemble the Tuatha de Danann and incorporating spirals into my projects.   The number three has become very important to me.  I don’t feel like I forced myself to think in this way – I believe that it happened slowly and over time.  I know I will never actually be Irish, but I think it’s important to have a good grasp of a pantheon’s culture, and through the study of said culture, I find myself adopting its ways, however small.  I intend to continue my Irish cultural studies and I’m sure that, by doing so, my perception of the world will shift even more.

Academics aside, I do put a lot of effort into spiritual practice as well.  I try to meditate as often as possible.  It’s sometimes difficult to make the time, but when I do it is very relaxing and refreshing.  I am hoping to study trance in the near future.

I now have a lovely altar in my room.  Every day, usually at night, I perform a simple daily devotional in which I light candles for the Three Kindreds.  I’ve started to form a relationship with the Goddess Brighid and her father The Dagda.  I have representations of them on my altar, a doll of Brighid that I made and a large rock I found on a hike which I dedicated to The Dagda.  I think about their influence in my life a lot and try to learn as much about them as I can.  In Brighid’s case, I’ve joined a flame-keeping group and light a special candle for her each month.  I also feel that practicing a form of art is a way to worship Brighid as she is a Goddess of creativity and crafts.  I bought a small lap harp at an Irish Festival a year ago.  It seemed appropriate because of my love of Irish harp playing and The Dagda’s relationship to harps.  Every so often, I pick the instrument up and attempt to learn something new which I feel is a way to honor him. I pray a lot as well.  In some ways that may be a carry-over from my Catholic upbringing, but I don’t see praying as a negative thing.  I believe that talking to the Gods strengthens our bonds with them.  Every morning, I have a prayer ritual in which I put on the Brighid talisman I have while saying:

I thank the Three Kindreds for their guidance, protection, blessings, and inspiration.

May they continue to bless myself, those I love, and the land,

And may I honor them with all I say and do.

Before meals, I say a prayer of thanks that was inspired by Isaac Bonewits’ book Pagan Man:

I thank the Earth Mother for the food before me,

I thank the men and women who toiled in field, farm, and kitchen to bring this meal to me,

And I thank the plants and animals that had to die so that I could live.

I also have a special prayer that I say to myself when I am on the road, taking a walk, or doing any sort of traveling.  While I don’t necessarily focus on a Gaulish culture, Cernunos has always been very important to me as the Lord of Animals.  And in my readings, I’ve learned that Lugh is a protector of travelers and merchants.  Whenever I transport myself in any way I say, “May Lugh and Cernunos protect me while I travel.”

Aside from my bedroom altar, there are also a couple of shrines I’ve set up outside.  One is right outside the door.  Using a pot, soil, and a fairy statue, I created a shrine for the house spirit.  I felt that it was important for her shrine to be situated in a threshold of sorts because I see her as both a protector of the indoors and the outdoors around my home.  I always acknowledge her as I enter and exit my home.  I sometimes leave offerings of flowers, petals, stones, or other such things.  Further back, as you walk into the forest behind my home, there is another shrine I set up.  I like to give offerings to the Kindreds there, and I feel that it is an especially sacred spot because once, while meditating under that tree, I opened my eyes to see a whole herd of deer standing around me.  It was truly amazing and I felt that the ground was sacred because of that experience.    However, due to the leafy and uneven consistency of the forest floor, I generally don’t do my full rituals there because a flame of any sort would seem dangerous.  I tend to perform outside rituals by my garden under an oak tree using a candle to represent the fire.

Luckily, there are a few groves in Upstate NY.  As of yet, there isn’t one in my hometown of Utica, but I started to visit Muin Mound in Syracuse.  I felt immediately welcomed there.  They tend to perform Celtic rituals for Samhain, Imbolc, Beltaine, and Lughnasadh, and Norse rituals for the Solstices and Equinoxes.  This is interesting for me because I get to learn about another culture besides my own.  The experiences with them have helped solidify a lot of my thoughts on ADF.  Seeing an ADF ritual performed is more helpful to me than reading about one.  It’s helped me to become more familiar and comfortable with the liturgy.  So much so, in fact, that I’ve lead two Druidic rituals for the local Pagan alliance in Utica – one for Imbolc and one for Beltaine.  While I was nervous about them, they were successful and well-received.  I now feel a calling to become a clergy member within ADF and serve my local Pagan community.  This calling has grown especially strong now that I know there are at least three other ADF members in Utica who would love to see a grove form.

In the meantime, I’ve helped to organize a study group with the other local ADF members.  We are just starting out, but I hope to see it evolve.  In the meantime, it is a place to discuss our spirituality with likeminded individuals. I hope that we can begin performing some rituals, but at the same time, I hope to continue visiting Muin Mound and other groves to keep things fresh and to help inspire me.

I feel very comfortable with my hearth culture.  My world is now full of spirals, Gods, and hidden places of power, and I feel very connected to some of my ancestors.  That is…  some.  While I feel very at home with the Tuatha de Dannan and my Irish hearth culture, my ancestry is not just Celtic but also Germanic.  There are times when I feel little tugs from Norse Gods, like Thor, and I feel that it is because I’m ignoring a part of my genes.  Here and there, I’ve picked up a book on Germanic culture and lore.  I hope to one day figure out how to balance between these two hearth cultures.  It will take some time, study, and practice, but I’m sure that I will be able to do it.

As I near completing my Dedicant Program I look forward to the future and what it brings to my soul.  I can see myself serving my community, growing as an artist through spirituality, learning more and more about the world around me, growing more adept at meditation, and learning Irish.  I hope that I am one day able to help lead a nemeton and provide guidance for future Druids.  ADF has given me reason to want to serve the Pagan community at large rather than just myself.

 

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Creating a shrine was not a difficult requirement for me as I’ve been making altars for a few years.  The challenge, however, was making an altar in accordance with a hearth culture and within a Druidic framework.  Having started on a Pagan path through Wicca, I was used to having certain articles on my altar.  When I realized that Wicca was not the path for me, I abandoned some of the traditional tools, such as the athame, and turned my altar into a mishmash of significance.  It was only through the deep introspection and study of mythology encouraged by ADF that I was able to build a shrine that was truly important to me and symbolic of my faith.

When I first started to think about putting together an altar for ADF, I knew it would have to be different from my past altars.  It would require space for offering bowls, something I’d never dealt with before.  My altars used to be built on top of slender bookshelves.  After moving into a new apartment, I decided to use an old vanity that I was not using.

My altar is in the kitchen, the hearth of my home, near the stove.  In the very center of my altar is a representation of the Bile, the world tree.  It is a wand I made from an apple branch, wire, and silver bells, similar to the wand given to Cormac in Irish mythology.  To the right of the tree is a doll/statue I made to represent Brighid.  Below her is a dish with a candle so that I can keep her flame once every month. To the Bile’s left is a large stone representing An Dagda.  I found the stone during a hike I dedicated to him.  Atop the stone is a ring of black twine that is also significant from that hike.  Behind the stone is a lap harp I bought at an Irish Festival.  It always reminds me of An Dagda and his harp of seasons.  Perhaps I will learn to play it one day and I will be able to incorporate it into my rituals!

There is also a representation of the fire and the well on my altar in the form of a candle and a cauldron.  Towards the front of the altar are three small bowls containing tea lights that represent the three Kindreds.  The center candle represents the Gods while the right candle represents the ancestors and the left represents the nature spirits.  In addition to these there is a fourth bowl on the altar into which offerings are given.  There are also a few small incense holders. Everything sits atop a beautiful green altar cloth with black Celtic knots swirling over its surface.  On the wall above my altar are photos of some of my ancestors and a candle that I can light when I want to specifically pay homage to them.  I think the photos serve as poignant reminders of my ancestors and enable me to really connect with them spiritually and emotionally.

All of the items on my altar are significant because they represent something spiritually important whether it’s symbolic of a deity, spirit, or simply the connection I have to the other world or my hearth culture. Seeing these symbols reconnects me and mentally prepares me for the rituals and mediations held before the altar.

I don’t feel that my altar is complete.  There are many improvements that I would like to make to it.  To begin with, I would like to locate more photos of ancestors to put on my wall.  I would also like to find better storage compartments for underneath the altar.  Currently all of my candles are in a cardboard box and everything else is in baskets just sitting there, vulnerable to my two curious cats and all of the fur they shed.  I also look forward to the day when I have a larger home and will have room to expand my altar.  Perhaps I will move it from the kitchen area to the living room to make it more central and accessible to larger worship.  Ideally, it would have its own room one day, complete with prayer mats, a library of Pagan-related books, and soundproof walls for meditation.  One can dream, right?

I have enjoyed creating my Druidic altar.  It has become such a significant focal point in my spiritual life.  Never before did I interact with an altar on a daily basis.  Never before was an altar so important to me.  The altar is not only a shrine to the Kindreds, but a peaceful sanctuary for me.

 

 

My altar as of March 2010.

I moved my altar in the autumn of 2010. Here it is incomplete.

 

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I love having company over.  I so rarely get to see the people I consider my tribe, so it was a real treat to have friends visit.  We had a lot of fun in Alex Bay and Watertown, but we mostly stayed home for chatting, snacking, and playing copious amounts of games.  If only there had been more time for more fun.

Having guests is always a test of virtue.  I try my best and take pride in being a hospitable hostess.  I love to cook fresh meals and share my drink.  Hospitality aside, my piety to the Kindreds is also tested.

They are never far from my mind to begin with, and I pray a lot – especially before eating and while traveling.  Yet when people share my home, my routine is always a bit disrupted.  (Truthfully, it already was thanks to my infernal, cough-inducing allergies…)  My devotionals are shortened because I need to be a good hostess and it is too loud for me to meditate.  I am proud of myself for getting up and doing my full, formal ritual yesterday, but even that was not as usual because of my need to assist my guests.  I felt self-conscious chanting, as well.  I found myself whispering the songs.  It was not a very powerful ritual but I am glad to have done it.  I like showing the Kindreds that I care, and I think they understand the strained ritual when I so rarely entertain.

I believe that ritual, trance, and meditation aren’t the only ways that we show honor to the Kindreds.  When we find joy with our tribe, treat others with love and respect, and celebrate life – even in a non-religious context – the Kindreds are there.  Strengthening bonds with the tribe is just as important as ritual on my Druidic path.

( For My LJ Friends: http://adfcatprints.blogspot.com/ )

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